Sunday, August 05, 2012

Anomalies

Some interesting thoughts on style and anachronism in Alan Hollinghurst's review of Peter Carey's new novel at the NYRB:
In Henry Brandling’s narrative, unlike Olivier’s, Carey is claiming to present a historical document, a journal quite specifically written in 1854; here again a number of anachronisms may be mere fictional license, or reasonable guesses that for instance “potty” (meaning a bit mad) might have been idiomatic some time before its first recorded usage in 1920. But still, “you scared the pants off Hartmann,” an idiom first recorded in 1925, “ashtray” (1887), “guff” (US, 1888), “bumph” (1889, and then only as bumf, for bum-fodder), “programmer” and “programme” as a verb (1948 and 1945), are all more or less jarring. When Brandling uses terms like “celluloid” (a plastic invented in 1870) and “snookered” (when the game of snooker wasn’t named till 1889), you start to feel that Carey, a supreme virtuoso of language, who besides can look these things up as easily as I can, must be aiming at some deliberate alienation effect. To what end, though, it is rather hard to say.

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